Chef Jean-Robert de Cavell, Cincinnati’s adopted son who revitalized fine dining in the region, died Friday at the age of 61.
DeCaval came to Cincinnati in 1993, when he was 32, to work at The Maisonette, the city’s only Mobil 5-Star rated restaurant. He has since opened several fine dining restaurants including Table, Pigalles Le Bar à Boeuf and French Crust Cafe and Bistro.
De Cavell had been battling leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that grows in smooth muscle, since 2018, but never let the cancer stop him from his work, from thinking about a new restaurant.
“I will never recover,” de Cavalle told The Inquirer in May. “I just have to be strong. I stay very positive. My medical team says, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing because it’s working.’ Never give up.
De Cavel was born on September 12, 1961 in Roubaix, France. He attended Le Féguide culinary school in Lille, France, and was chef de cuisine at La Régence and La Gallois in New York before coming to Cincinnati in 1993.
He said in a 2021 interview, “I did what I would have done elsewhere, which is not try to better the city, but be proud of what Cincinnati is.”
De Cavel was accepted by his adoptive city. Seventh Street at the corner of Seventh and Vine downtown was honorarily renamed Jean Robert de Cavel Way last year and he was named a Great Living Cincinnatian in the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s 2021 class.
“That’s something I got very lucky without realizing, the support of everyone,” said de Cavel. “People adopted me very quickly and I think when people adopt you, you feel comfortable. It was easier in Cincinnati to become more myself than it was in New York City.”
De Cavel, affectionately known simply as “Chef” to many in the service industry, loved his city and made himself available to help with many charitable causes. De Cavel and his wife Annette Pfund de Cavel founded the de Cavel Family SIDS Foundation after the abrupt death of their firstborn child, Tatiana, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. She died in 2002.
The foundation now annually hosts the Friends & Family brunch at the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
De Cavel’s influence will be felt for many more years in the Cincinnati region and nationally through the dozens of chefs that emerged from his restaurants.
“In my field it is very important to also be a teacher, share what you know to help your team to become a leader and chef in their future,” he said in 2021.
De Cavel leaves behind his wife Annette and his daughter Leticia.
“Cincinnati will miss a wonderful, loving chef. But my daughter and I will miss our husband and dad the most,” Annette de Cavel said in a statement.
Funeral arrangements have not been decided at this time.